By Kevin Paap
Minnesota Farm Bureau President
We are truly blessed in this country. We have the opportunity to produce more than we can use. Exports account for one third of the total U.S. farm income. Did you know the United States exports 70 percent of our cotton, 49 percent of our soybeans, 38 percent of our wheat, 20 percent of our pork, 16 percent of our poultry, 15 percent of our dairy, 14 percent of our corn and 10 percent of our beef? Did you know Minnesota’s the 4th largest agricultural exporter in the United States, adding $7.3 billion to the state’s economy that supports nearly 60,000 export-related jobs? Trade is critically important to farm income, the farm economy, our rural economy and our state.
We need to remember the United States is only 4 percent of the world’s population. Many in the other 96 percent of the world need to import from somewhere else to survive. That is why Farm Bureau is continually working to expand market access for U.S. exports through new trade agreements and enforcement of existing trade laws.
For many countries trade is about relationships, about comfort levels. If you want a business opportunity, you need to first build a relationship, travel there, have a social and cultural angle to do business. It is not to make money alone.
As your Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) President, I was honored to be asked by the Governor’s office to participate in a bipartisan delegation of Minnesota elected officials and business leaders in a Food and Agricultural Mission to Cuba with Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Dave Frederickson.
Cuba is a small market with lots of opportunities. It is a country of 11 million people that imports nearly $2 billion in food and agricultural products from around the world. Cuba, is a market that imports up to 80percent of its food supply that is only 90 miles away is a market that we must not ignore. Currently, Cuba imports most of its corn and soybeans from Argentina and Brazil, rice from Vietnam, wheat from the European Union and Canada, pulses from China and powdered milk from Europe and New Zealand.
Farmers and ranchers learn at an early age the importance of working with your neighbors. All neighbors are important, but it is the close neighbors that can be the most important many times.
Cuba, 90 miles away, is one of our close neighbors. It only makes sense to work closely with. MFBF is looking at all available avenues to increase trade opportunities. This includes working with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Tom Emmer on bipartisan legislation to lift the trade embargo. Farm Bureau with other agricultural organizations will continue to build on the relationships we have made in Cuba with the Province of Mayabeque, Institute of Animal Science, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives and farm organizations and others.
The changes in Cuba are not happening as fast as many would like to see, but if we wait for the conditions to be perfect, the United States will miss the opportunities in this country only 90 miles away. Clearly more Cubans are driving their own history and building a better life for their families, a United States policy of engagement offers more opportunities for supporting the Cuban people as they seek a better future.